Repression of the Catalan regional government’s independence referendum by Guardia Civil paramilitary police would have drawn sharp criticism from the European Union and member states had it occurred outside the EU.

Clubbing, tear-gassing and firing rubber bullets at people trying to vote provides an embarrassing spectacle for authorities addicted to lecturing the rest of the world on democracy.

It will be self-defeating since the drive towards independence is likely to strengthen in a region denied the right to express its language, culture and identity during the long night of dictatorship that ended barely four decades ago.

Fascist denial of Catalan self-expression has given way to partial recognition in a unified Spanish state, but chronic economic problems have boosted calls for the independence of Spain’s wealthiest region.

These calls are opposed by left parties Podemos and Izquierda Unida whose preference is for an enhanced federalist option that encompasses solidarity with less developed areas of Spain.

Counterposing the status quo and Catalan independence as a binary choice excludes that possibility.

State reliance on its coercive forces will strengthen reactionary nationalism and weaken the hand of those championing co-operation between all of Spain’s people.